“When you talk about restructuring… it is something we need to sit down and explain to our people that it is a win-win situation for everybody.”
Deputy President of the Senate Ike Ekweremadu has said that unless everyone, especially the northerners are made to understand that restructuring is a win-win for everyone, moves to actulaise it will never materialise. He spoke in a TV interview, monitored in Lagos.
Recently, there have been two major issues that concern you. One was the recent attack on your residence, which was reported to the police. What is the situation with that?
Thank you very much for your concern. The matter is still under investigation. I am not going to dwell much on it. It’s just an unfortunate incident for my wife, my son, and myself. I want to thank well-wishers, colleagues, and friends that showed concern since the incident happened. My concern was if it happened to me, I wonder what the situation with other Nigerians would be. We need to ensure that everybody is well protected. That is the responsibility of government – to ensure that lives and property of citizens are well protected. I am happy a lot has been said about this matter and I do hope the police will get to the root of it.
The second issue is related to a court case that has to do with assets declaration. What is the situation with that?
The case is still in court, but just to update you, the Court of Appeal said that the Presidential Panel for the Recovery of Public Property has no power to fight anybody, as that is the responsibility of the Code of Conduct tribunal. That is from the legal angle.
In terms of reality and fact, I have nothing to worry about because, what the law expects from me is to declare all my assets to the Code of Conduct Bureau, I did exactly that. So, a panel suing me for refusing to declare assets to it, a panel trying to exercise the power it doesn’t have, is a non-issue. It is just a smear campaign. As far as I am concerned, I have nothing to worry about it. My hands are clean and recent ruling of the Court of Appeal on similar matter shows I was right to refuse to breach the constitution.
As Deputy Senate President you chair the joint committee on constitutional reform and you have done that over the last circles. How have you gone about it? What has been your experience? In the process of implementing amended sections, have there been specific gaps you noticed you didn’t fill?
I think the one that probably comes to mind now is the issue of timeframe within which we conclude election petitions. In 2010 we figured that it took so much time to conclude election petitions. There were instances where matters go to election tribunal and by the time you conclude that matter, the time for the office has expired.
For instance, I had an experience when I came into the Senate in 2003. I had a colleague from Rivers State. He had an election matter that started in 1999. So, the matter went to the Tribunal. The matter was still on by the time we met them in the Senate in 2003 and he had then been re-elected and then the court now came to the conclusion that he was not validly elected in the first one. Meanwhile, he had concluded the tenure and was re-elected.
So, we now said ‘okay, we have to do something about it.’ We now amended section 285 of the Constitution to place time limit within which election petitions must be concluded. You have to file your petition within 21 days from the conduct of the election. So, in 180 days the petition would have been concluded. If there is any appeal arising there from, the Court of Appeal must deal with that within a period of 60 days and then if you go to a Supreme Court, another 60 days.
We thought we had captured the whole essence. It didn’t occur to us that there was another matter, which is the pre-election issue. What we amended was the issue of election petitions. Now the issue of primaries still lingered in the courts for years; some of them that started in 2015 are still there at the Supreme Court.
We now decided in the last exercise to amend section 285 further to now include pre-election matters and I will use this opportunity to explain a bit of it so that Nigerians can understand because most people do not know about it.
Let me also say that out of 15 of such amendments sent to the president, the president has signed five and incidentally, the issue of pre-election matters is one of those the president has signed. The implication, therefore, is that matters that took place prior to the election itself – things that have to do with primaries, the issue of who won the primary election, the issue of whether INEC had followed the rules, whether the Electoral Act or any Acts of the National Assembly have been breached – have to be concluded within a definite period.
So, we have provided that any such complaints must be filed in court not less than 14 days after it occurred. So if you go after 14 days, the court will not entertain the matter any longer. And once it is filed, if there are any issue that is technical-like jurisdiction and all that – the court will not touch it. They will have to wait until after the matter is concluded so they can be taken together with the whole aspects of the matter and even at that, that matter must be concluded within 180 days, just like the election petitions. If there is any appeal arising there too, it has to be dealt with within 60 days. So, that now has put to a halt this issue of pre-election matters going on forever and I guess that this will also help the system.
There were other amendments, which were brought. Some of them suffered setbacks and difficulties because a great deal of politics was involved. Tell us what happened?
Yes. You are right. In 2014, we had a comprehensive amendment to the constitution and what you are referring to, which is devolution of powers from the federal government to the states, was extensively dealt with. We moved a number of issues such as railway, power, aviation, to the Concurrent List. It was quite successful. It went through the National Assembly, went to the state, passed through the state and was sent to the president for assent. It was at that place we had some issues, but eventually we went to the Supreme Court with the Federal Government and the Supreme Court sent us to go and settle. We were dealing with that until the term of former President Jonathan expired and we lost that opportunity. It was a very heavy loss to the nation because we addressed several key issues to straighten our federalism.
So when we came back in 2015, we started the process all over again. Because politics came, this issue of restructuring came in, and people became unnecessarily anxious…
(Cuts in) You said unnecessarily, why did you say that?
Yes, because I believe that when you are using the word like restructuring, it becomes complex to some people. But essentially, what it entails is devolution of powers, giving more powers to the component parts of the country so that the federal government will be slim and the powers will now be mostly at state level. That way, you make the federal government less attractive. All this competitions for the centre will not be there again and the states will now develop at their own pace and then have a lot to do and generate funds and lots of responsibility as well.
I think we have not been able to explain these benefits adequately to a number of people, especially our brothers in the North. So, when you talk about restructuring, for them it becomes something to be anxious about. It is something we need to sit down and explain to our people that it is a win-win situation for everybody. The federal government as presently constituted is not in a position to carry out all the responsibilities contained in the Exclusive Legislative List. It is not going to happen.
Look at what is happening with the security, for instance. As long as the security is in the hands of the Federal Government alone, it will continue to have problems because security itself needs to be devolved at least to the state level because each state needs to have security that will fit into their own circumstance. Today, we have Boko Haram in the North East. So, if we have state police, they are going to get people who will be trained to fight insurgency. In the South East, for instance, we have kidnapping. If we have state police, those police will concentrate and learn how to deal with the issue of kidnapping. In Lagos too, we have different scenarios, that is why we need to ensure that each state of the federation will have their own police so they will be able to decide which priority they will give in the issue of security. If, for instance, a governor decides to put 20 per cent of the state’s budget into areas of security and the place is secure, it is most likely people will move from places that is less secure to places that are well secure to go live in those places and also do business.
But our problem is that when we identify a problem, instead of identifying a solution, we tend to run away from the problem. So, what has happened is that people are afraid that governors will misuse it. But that is not going to happen because other countries have the same type of system we are prescribing for our people. The question is ‘how have they able to deal with it to ensure that nobody will abuse?’ What they have done in other countries is to set up a system that makes it impossible for anybody to abuse the system.
Let’s give an instance in Nigeria. We have state judiciary, how many persons have complained that the governors are using the state judiciary to persecute them? The reason is that we have an NJC (National Judicial Institute) that controls the judges – whether they are federal or state. So, if we are afraid that the governors will use the police to intimidate their opponents, then we now have a National Police Service Commission that will be able to discipline the people, just as it happens in the judiciary, the Commission will be constituted in such a way that the impartiality of the police will also be secured. It is part of what I proposed in the Bill to create state police which I sponsored along with several of my colleagues. This is exactly what they did in Brazil. They have done it in Australia, Canada and other places. Once we are able to achieve that, we put measures in place to ensure that the system is not abused.